High blood pressure — also known as hypertension — affects nearly half of all adults in the United States. While it’s a common condition, high blood pressure increases your risk of heart disease and stroke and is one of the leading causes of death for Americans. And, because it has few obvious symptoms, it’s often referred to as the silent killer, But what causes high blood pressure to occur, and what are the best options for treatment and prevention?
What is considered high blood pressure?
For anyone who’s had a medical appointment, it’s routine to have your blood pressure checked. The medical worker fits a sleeve around your arm, tightens it to the point where it feels like it could burst, and finally gives a reading of one number over another number. All of this might mean something to the healthcare provider, but for an average patient the results can be hard to understand.
First of all, let’s define blood pressure. Blood pressure measures the pressure your blood exerts against the walls of your blood vessels as it circulates throughout your body. For measurement, this is then broken up into systolic and diastolic. Systolic blood pressure is the first number given in a blood pressure reading and refers to how much pressure your blood exerts against your artery’s walls as your heart beats. Diastolic blood pressure measures how much pressure your blood exerts against the artery walls in between heartbeats, as your heart rests.
Together, the systolic and diastolic numbers are given as a blood pressure reading. So if your nurse tells you that your blood pressure is 120 over 80, this means that your systolic blood pressure is 120 mm Hg ( a measurement of pressure), and your diastolic blood pressure is 80 mm Hg.
But what is considered good vs. bad blood pressure?
|Category||Systolic (first number)||Diastolic (second number)|
|Normal||< 120 mm Hg||< 80 mm Hg|
|Elevated||120-129 mm Hg||< 80 mm Hg|
|Hypertension — Stage 1||130-139 mm Hg||80-89 mm Hg|
|Hypertension — Stage 2||≥ 140 mm Hg||≥ 90 mm Hg|
|Hypertension — Emergency||180+ mm Hg||120+ mm Hg|
Causes of High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure can accumulate over many years through no direct, identifiable cause (primary hypertension) or through underlying conditions (secondary hypertension). For secondary hypertension, causes include:
- Thyroid issues
- Kidney problems
- Tumors in the adrenal glands
- Legal/illegal drug use
- Obstructive sleep apnea
There are also several factors that can put you at a higher risk of developing hypertension, such as:
- Age (over 55)
- Race (people of African descent are at a higher risk)
- Tobacco use
- Overly salty diet
- Alcohol consumption over 2 glasses a day
- Family history of cardiovascular disease
5 Ways to Lower High Blood Pressure
While some aspects of high blood pressure may be genetic or hereditary, there are some things you can do to prevent or reduce high blood pressure. These include:
- Eating a heart healthy diet
- Limiting alcohol and tobacco use
- Regular exercise and physical activity
- Reducing sodium intake
- Staying within healthy weight range for your height and body type
Types of Blood Pressure Medications
While the steps listed above may help with preventing or reducing blood pressure, sometimes medication is still necessary. What medication is right for you, however, will depend on your particular medical needs and body chemistry. Some of the most common types include:
- Diuretics — helps the body remove excess sodium and water
- Alpha blockers — reduce the muslcatory resistance of blood vessels
- Beta-blockers — lower blood pressure by reducing heart rate
- Combined alpha and beta-blockers — for extreme hypertension and given as an IV drip
- Vasodilators — dilates the blood vessels
- ACE inhibitors — relax and open up blood vessels
- Angiotensin II receptor blockers — keep the blood vessels from constricting
- Calcium channel blockers — reduces the blood vessel constriction caused when calcium enters the bloodstream
- Alpha-2 Receptor Agonists — work with the involuntary nervous system to lower blood pressure
- Central agonists — inhibit the blood vessels’ ability to contract
- Peripheral adrenergic inhibitors — a neurological approach that is used only in rare cases; blocks the message from the brain telling blood vessels to constrict
If you’re concerned about your blood pressure, schedule a hypertension screening, and consult with your healthcare provider to determine what treatment options and medications are right for you.
If You Need a Blood Pressure Screening or Help Managing Hypertension, Nurse Practitioners of Florida Can Help
At Nurse Practitioners of Florida, we have a dedicated team of certified nurse practitioners who have an unwavering commitment to providing you with care and compassion. When you call any of our locations, you will be greeted by a live person who’s ready to offer acute medical care as well as preventive measures — including flu vaccines. And, above everything else, you will be treated like family.
If you need assistance, call us or fill out our online contact form.